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By Susan Yung
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet // Hofesh Shechter's The Fools // The Joyce Theater, NYC // November 2–7, 2010 // Reviewed by Susan Yung
Men of Cedar Lake in Shechter's The Fools. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy Cedar Lake.
Cedar Lake's dancers may be extremely skilled in classical techniques, yet they have enough dramatic range to portray royalty or idiots, which is how choreographer Hofesh Shechter has cast them in his new work, The Fools. Shechter's vision is very specific, and he has the talents to realize it, not only choreographing, but also designing the lighting, sets, costumes, and composing some of the music as well. (Shechter was a drummer in his band in Israel.) The piece begins with seven ominous, grey-clad “shadows,” jolted by a raucous beat from straight-backed chairs into a frantic, synchronized step-touch, arms flailing.
Faceless and assimilated, they seem to prefigure the fate of another group—their all-too-human counterparts, who cluster numbly in milky light, wearing just old-fashioned white briefs and bras. These sad creatures slump and trudge aimlessly, waiting for something, Godot-style. When they dance, all of gravity's force is felt; they lunge, fling their arms, heads lolling, and crawl on all fours. They later dress in geek chic—plaid shirts and khakis or skirts, and black framed eyeglasses. And they take up a mission: to set up a plastic flag, as if staking out turf, and a plywood sign on which is scrawled “The Fools,” a DIY version of the high-tech projection delineating each act.
With this odd yet appealing work, Shechter did what a number of Cedar Lake–commissioned artists are unable to. Given the superbly capable company, many choreographers can’t resist pushing the dancers to their technical maximum, to the point of physical exhaustion. But Shechter enlists primitive, unballetic movement almost as a means to convey dance's lowest common denominator. Could this regression from studied technique be read as a victory of the everyday over the elitism of ballet? At the very least, it's an antidote to a post-Forsythe trend—energy rippling through torsos, broken lines, exploding leg extensions—that has, incidentally, become a sub-genre for contemporary choreographers, many of whom have created work for Cedar Lake.